Hawaii health experts urge getting new Omicron-fighting COVID vaccine boosters

"What we can do is try to reduce the suffering, reduce the death, as this disease then transfers over to become endemic."
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 4:48 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 1, 2022 at 5:02 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signed off Thursday on updated COVID vaccine boosters from Pfizer and Moderna, meaning shots could be available in Hawaii later next week.

CDC advisors expressed some concern about the lack of data on their effectiveness against Omicron variants, but felt a potential surge of cases this winter justifies efforts to boost immunity now.

“This is keeping ahead of what we can best try to anticipate with the coronavirus,” said national COVID consultant Dr. Scott Miscovich, president and founder of Premier Medical Group Hawaii.

He advises getting the modified vaccine, regardless of how many vaccine doses you’ve had or if you’ve contracted COVID.

“The studies are showing that if you have hybrid immunity, where you’ve had the shot, and you’ve had the disease, you have more immunity, but it fades, it wanes,” he said.

“Two shots was fully vaccinated in 2021. You need this shot to be vaccinated in 2022. And I hate to predict, but you’re gonna need one at 2023. And we’ll probably even need one in 2024. Because we are not going to eradicate COVID, we are going to be living with this. And what we can do is try to reduce the suffering, reduce the death, as this disease then transfers over to become endemic,” he said, adding that people should not think they will never get infected.

CDC and FDA officials recommend Pfizer’s bivalent booster for people age 12 and older. Moderna’s booster is for adults only.

Both should be administered at least two months since a person’s most recent vaccination.

The modified boosters contain protection from the original coronavirus strain as well as two highly contagious Omicron variants that make up most cases in the U.S.

“It is a safe bet that the booster will work, how well it will work against the Omicron variants that currently circulating ones. We don’t know that,” said virologist Dr. Axel Lehrer, an associate professor with the University of Hawaii who is working with a team to develop its own protein-based COVID vaccine.

Lehrer says the boosters will better protect people in the winter, when the virus can be more easily transmitted.

“You’re telling your immune system look, you know, the target has changed a little. And so, you know, let’s kind of take a little different approach here in how we want to kill this virus,” he said.

The CDC did not specify who should get the boosters first — but health experts believe getting doses to at-risk populations should be a priority.

“We need to get to our remote areas of our state, we need to get into the populations that may not have great internet, we need to take it to the vaccine hesitant and and those that have questions,” Dr. Miscovich said.

“Some family members are saying, you know, I already got four [shots], how many more do we need,” said Agnes Malate, who manages outreach and COVID clinics for the Filipino Community Center’s FILCOM Cares.

“For those who may not have really highly proficient English, making sure that these messages are communicated in the languages that they can understand is very critical,” she said.

The bivalent vaccines replace previously authorized monovalent mRNA boosters for people age 12 and older. The DOH and CDC continue to recommend Pfizer’s monovalent boosters for children ages 5 through 11.